A hundred years on from the Gallipoli landings, on ANZAC Day the entire country honours and remembers New Zealanders who have served at war.
ANZAC Day commemorates the loss of life and of innocence at war.
Interestingly, recently my sons school librarian directed my 12 year old son away from the fantasy stories he’s enjoyed reading up until now toward a series of war stories for young people.
Did I mind?, she asked me.
After some consideration, I replied, “No.”
While the books generally tell stories of glorious victories, dignified defeats, superhuman courage and sacrifice, they have also introduce my son to some of the disturbing truths of war – pain, death and suffering.
For me, this reality really hit home when I attended a screening of Turkish filmaker Tolga Ornek’s 2005 documentary “Gallipoli – The Front Line Experience”. It was uncomfortable to watch the idiocy and paradoxes of battle expressed in the letters and journals of men (from both sides) who were there.
It is not a story about who won or lost.
Everyone lost in this shocking conflict, when young men not only fought against each other, but against extreme weather conditions, severe hardships like the ravages of disease, flies and lice.
Soldiers fight for all sorts of reasons. Because they are sent to do so. Because they believe in causes. But usually because politicians tell them to go.
With all of its implications of men willingly offering themselves up on the battlefield for their nation, and of the women and children back home suffering stoically in their absence, it’s important not to trivialise the true and devastating social impact of conflict – especially the first world war.
Fortunately, most of us haven’t had to face the question of whether to go to war.
As my son, grows I hope he develops an awareness of the more pervasive, ugly, reality of war – that mostly war just kills people horribly, without dignity, and scars for life many of those who survive it.
What shines through repeatedly is that whatever their reasons for going to war – from Gallipoli and Palestine to Vietnam and Afghanistan – our servicemen ultimately end up fighting mostly for their fellow soldiers – their friends and colleagues.
If there’s an “spirit” it’s probably that. And this not unique to the ANZAC.
On Saturday I’ll be taking Isaac to the Dawn Service at the Napier Cenotaph.
It’ll provide an opportunity to contemplate the deeper resonances of war. I hope to see you there . . .
Lest we forget.